Sea fishing is not for everyone – let alone sea fishing in winter. But for some, venturing out onto choppy waters in the bitter winds for a decent catch is their idea of a perfect UK Winter Break.
But good catches tend to happen when most (sane and normal) people are safe in their beds, dreaming of those warm summer months. Sea fishing in winter is not a sport to be taken lightly – an awareness of the risks and how to prevent dangers are essential before heading out to the ocean.
It’s things like this you should know before you embark on your sea fishing winter voyage. So we’ve brought to you a list of things to bear in mind as a novice to the icy waters…
1) Know your sea fish
The UK is rife with different species of fish. Plaice, mackerel, and pollock arrive in spring, bass, and tope in summer, and the autumn is one of the best times due to the overlap between summer and winter species. But winter fishing is synonymous with cod in the UK, and they normally migrate inshore to around 3 to 4 miles in.
2) Know where to go
Cod tend to start appearing inshore all over the UK between October and February, as they are spawning closer to land away from the deep. Hotspots for fishing tend to be rough ground marks, around 50-100ft deep. But remember, other fish also prefer deeper water in winter as it’s much warmer, and to conserve energy, they move around a lot less. Winter waters are also a lot clearer which means fish are easily spooked.
Beaches are common locations to sea fish from, and many have ‘better areas’ – these are often obvious places like headlands or deep water patches. Find these better areas, do your research, then narrow it down to specific spots, and keep a log of where others fish and what they often catch.
3) Understand your sea fishing conditions
Some expert anglers will put wind direction above tide when deciding on fishing spots, as this has a huge impact on the feeding habits of sea fish. Your best time would be during an onshore wind which creates turmoil beneath the waters and dislodges shellfish, marine worms, and limpets. This easy whirlwind of food will attract larger fish closer to the shore. While going fishing during a storm would obviously be unsafe, fishing straight after the stir has settled would be a great opportunity to catch.
As you’d expect, offshore wind (when someone looking at the sea would feel the wind on their back blowing them INTO the tide) simply helps the marine worms and shellfish burrow further in the sand. Generally, rain and snow have little effect on sea fishing with regards to the catch but can make conditions unpleasant for the fisherman.
4) Get your bait right – part 1
Unlike humans who become more gluttonous in winter, fish eat less during the colder months, meaning the right bait is paramount. Some experts believe that due to clearer waters in the winter, fish are more tempted by wiggling live bait than inanimate, still, feed.
The right amount of bait is impossible to configure and each spot, fish type, and weather all impact the probability of feeding. But you will almost certainly need half the bait you would use in summer as fish need a whole lot less food this time of year when they are active.
Begin by casting with around a dozen maggots until you start to feel the fish biting. Once bites increase, increase the feed accordingly – but always resist the temptation to throw in a load of bait if you’re unsuccessful. This will merely feed the fish and deter them from baiting before they swim off with full tummies.
5) Get your bait right – part 2
Natural-water fishing (not a commercial fishery) in the sea is most successful when using worms, maggots, squats, pinkies, or caster. Maggots are always a great year-round bait for both hook baiting and feeding. But the idea of this is to attract the fish, not feed them, so you can use pinkies and squats interchangeably.
If you’re really struggling, joker and bloodworm are lifesavers, and you could also try throwing a ball of liquidized bread into the patch you’re fishing in. This will drop to form a cloud of crumbs in the water and will give fish more confidence to feed without actually feeding them.
6) Spice up your life
It may sound bizarre, but adding some spices to your bait could be a game-changer. In clearer waters, it’s plausible that fish search by sight rather than smell for food. But experts claim that strong spices can help attract fish, so try seasoning your bait in curry powder or turmeric. Either can be bought from supermarkets, and their strong hue and scent will probably attract fish to the area – and will make the bait wiggle more.
7) Get the right equipment
Keep your tackle as light as you can in the bobbing waters, and also make sure your hook sizes are smaller with lighter breaking strain. Due to their lethargy, clearer waters, and lack of appetite, fish can be shy at biting so make sure you use a float that’s sensitive. A good headtorch is worth investing in, which means you can deal with your lines and moving around without holding a light.
8) Cast correctly for successful sea fishing
As we’ve already said, fish move a lot less in winter and will congregate tightly in shoaled areas. When you’re casting, cast to the spot you will be fishing and secure your line to the reel. This will ensure you cast to the same patch of water each time – you really don’t want bait everywhere when the fish are preserving energy and only coming to the surface for definite feeds.
9) Wear yourself warm
Every angler should fork out on some decent winter fishing clothing, most notably, the two-piece suits. These come as a salopettes and jacket combo, which can be removed in line with the weather on the day. (One-piece suits have been known to become dangerous on the shore due to their flotation padding.)
Take an abundance of warm dry clothes with you, like thick socks, a jumper, hat, and gloves. Thermal underwear can also make or break your day, and studded boots/ waders are a necessity.
10) Revel in the sea fishing darkness
Fish are undoubtedly creatures of habit – they won’t just turn up anywhere, so it’s your job as an angler to crack their mini code. Cod especially like rough and coloured waters, so day fishing might not prove the easiest of times for you to catch your mark. This is why darkness, or night time fishing, is your friend, as it gives fish more confidence to move towards the shore where they’ll be easier to catch.